Crossing views on the same subject of study South-East Asia is one of the most complex regions in the world as far as ethnic, linguistic and cultural diversity is concerned, with an extremely rich ancient and contemporary history. Because of this, it offers an exceptionally rich field of study for inter-ethnic relations, which will be the focus point for the analyses developed throughout this work. To our way of thinking, the notion of a geographical area – South-East Asia – is not in itself determining in the sense that our aim is not to consider this region as ‘a cultural area’, nor to look for traits of continuity specific to South-East Asia. Most of the contributions to this volume concern South-East Asia; others, devoted to the Himalayan world and to Siberia, have been chosen because they adopt a new approach to the issue which focuses on the different forms of relating to others. The aim of this work is twofold. On the one hand, it attempts to describe and to understand the cultural, social, economic, political and historical complexity of the mountain regions of Asia through processes of exchange and relations. Nearly all researchers today agree on the fact that studies focused on a single ethnic group are insufficient for an understanding of human relation dynamics and of socio-economic, political and religious changes. If the trend for monographs would seem to be over, a strong interest in academic specialization by ethnic group still remains, sometimes indirectly. In this book we propose going beyond intellectual trends in order to give an account of the practical reality we see daily in the field – that is, to treat social realities from an inter-ethnic angle so as to apprehend the exchange dynamics as accurately as possibly. On the other hand, although inter-ethnic relations have become – since Edmund Leach’s founding work (1979 ) devoted to the fragile balance between the Shan administrations and the Kachin political systems – an important research topic in the social sciences, we remained unsatisfied with the main orientations of the majority of texts available. Our aim will therefore be to refocus the angles of approach on everyday relationships and on those which structure the ethnic groups’ social spaces on a local or micro-regional level. Exchanges and inter-ethnic relations have already been the subject of numerous works, in particular with respect to the south-east Asian massif – for
example, Peter Kunstadter (eds), Southeast Asian Tribes, Minorities and Nations (1967); Charles Keyes (eds), Ethnic Adaptation and Identity. The Karen on the Thai Frontier with Burma (1979); David Brown, The State and Ethnic Politics in South-East Asia (1994) and, more recently, Jean Michaud, Turbulent Times and Enduring Peoples. Mountain Minorities in the South-East Asian Massif (2000), Andrew Turton, Civility and Savagery. Social Identity in Tai States (2000) and Christopher R. Duncan and Ileen A. DeVault, Civilizing the Margins. Southeast Asian Government Policies for the Development of Minorities (2004). One of the points all these works have in common is the fact that their approaches are centred on relations between the central authorities (in different forms) and the ethnic populations (in their diversity). From an epistemological point of view, the fact of focusing research on exchanges between central government and ethnic populations is not neutral. To begin with, we should note that the central authorities themselves produce certain types of discourse on their relations with ethnic populations (annals, laws, regulations, development projects, etc.). Thus the researcher, whether an anthropologist, a sociologist, a geographer or a historian, who considers and describes inter-ethnic relations through the central government/ethnic populations dualism himself re-uses (usually without clearly stating it) the central government’s categories of thought with regard to ethnic groups. This intellectual position poses several problems of a descriptive and ideological nature.